Covering sports events caused Sam to realize that there was something wrong with the racial setting of sports. The memory of his childhood surfaced. He remembered the days where he witnessed both Black and White teams compete, and he realized the level of competition was on a par, and sometimes better.
With this in mind, he solicited, and was granted an audience with Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators. He made the case that there was some colored talent being wasted, and Griffith should consider some of the best for his team. Griffith listened, but rebutted Sam’s position with the excuse that recruitment of colored players would be the cause of the demise of the Negro Leagues.
In 1944, Sam was on loan to the Chicago Defender Newspaper. The Defender had a gaping hole in their coverage of sports and thought that Sam, who by this time had gained a level of notoriety, would be just the medicine to cure this ailment.
While with the Defender, Sam pursued his mission to integrate baseball. He was able to set up a meeting with Branch Rickey (Brooklyn Dodgers), Kenesaw Mountain Landis (Commissioner of Major League Baseball) and Wendell Smith (who, like Sam, was a Negro Sports Writer with the Pittsburgh Courier).
The meeting took place without Sam. His boss decided to replace him with Paul Robeson. Robeson was well known at this time for his singing performances.
But, unfortunately he had been very outspoken on his support of Communism. The meeting was a bust, but Branch Rickey held on to the dream.
Rickey set up another meeting with Sam and Smith with the sole purpose of selecting the player who would be most suited to endure the rigors of being the first Negro to enter Major League Baseball.
In the interim, Bill Veeck (Cleveland Indians) queried Sam on the subject of bringing a colored player to the Indians. Sam pointed out that this may be a bad idea since Veeck had played a midget, a player considered a giant and a woman.
If he brought a colored player on board, the experiment would fail because it would be considered just another act in Bill Veeck’s circus.
When the meeting with Rickey took place, Jackie Robinson was the unanimous choice for a number of reasons. Jackie had been an officer in the military, had played in an integrated environment at UCLA, and most importantly, was engaged to his sweetheart, Rachel.
The issue was on the front burner because the last colored athlete to make an impact on America was heavyweight Champion John Henry Johnson, who had a penchant for White women. The support and advice Rickey received from Sam and Wendell was enough to seal the deal for Rickey.
In 1947, Jackie stepped onto the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and another integration barrier came crashing down.
This was all Bill Veeck needed, because 11 weeks later he signed Larry Doby.
More to come in my next column…
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